The View from the Canopy
As promised, now that I've thanked my gracious hosts, let's look at some of the typical views we had from the upper deck overlooking the surrounding canopy. Of course you could see the Panama Canal and distant Panama City and the Pacific Ocean beyond, but with so many scenic wonders let's first look at the avian spectacle that was seen regularly from the tower. The nearby canal offered passage for more than just ships and we regularly saw distant Magnificent Frigatebirds and occasional Brown Pelicans sailing over the water from the tower. Some of the trees around the tower were within 20 feet or so but most were further away. As a result, digiscoping was a wonderful way to capture many of the avian visitors that perched in that 50-100' range and even beyond.
male Blue Dacnis perches on fruit to eat
Some of the closest trees were Cecropia trees rich in fruit. The Cecropia fruit was a favorite of many species of bird, mammal, and insect alike it seemed. The male Blue Dacnis above was one of many species that visited the trees morning, noon, and night. Females were green with bluish heads superficially resembling the female Green Honeycreepers. The males were easily discernible though and once you learned the difference in structural cues like bill shape, the two were easily separable (compare the sharply pointed straight culmen of the Dacnis above with the curved longer bill of the Honeycreeper male below).
Palm Tanagers and Plain-colored Tanagers were also among the regularly seen species in the surrounding trees during our stay. The Scarlet-rumped Cacique fed chicks like clockwork in the long pendulum-shaped nest near the parking area. It was fun watching the antics of a lingering young bird (presumably from a previous clutch) as it followed the adults back and forth still food begging on occasion as they came in with food.
Collared Aracari coming in to a Cecropia
Keel-billed Toucans commonly teed up in the distance giving their croaking toad like calls, showing brilliant yellow breasts, but I really loved the stunning little Collared Aracari that came in many mornings during our stay. These smaller members of the Toucan family were no slouches in color and beauty... and what about that bill?!?...
Blue Cotinga male with mouthful of fruit
On the first morning of the trip we were all treated to very close views of the stunning Blue Cotinga. They were seen in the distance on most days though. Another specialty that was seen through windows and from the top deck that can be very hard to see from the ground is the Green Shrike-Vireo. Their songs reminded me a bit of a Tufted Titmouse back here in Florida. Slaty-tailed Trogons were also seen regularly hawking insects as the morning chorus kicked in.
As I mentioned earlier we would leave the tower each morning for a half day trip returning near noon or 12:30, and would have another evening excursion starting near 2:30 or 3:00 PM, but when not there I found myself inevitably drawn to the deck. Midday between lunch and the evening birding I often would scan the skies for migrating raptors. Most days during our stay there were numbers of Plumbeous Kites streaming by. They would sail in from the valleys due south below eye level often catching and updraft and spiralling past eye level and gaining altitude as they passed by. I counted nearly 100 Plumbeous with a lone Swallow-tailed Kite mixed in one afternoon. They appeared to be moving north as the passed the Tower at least which struck me as odd, but this could have just been the way they follow the ridges or even a northward post breeding dispersal flight. I've seen Red-tailed Hawks do the same in August in upstate NY. At any rate, it was great to watch.
One group that passed, contained 4 raptors a Double-toothed Kite, two dark somethings, and a bird I passed off as a Sharp-shinned Hawk. The latter was undoubtedly something more interesting from my standpoint, but I was intent on the two dark raptors. They had paddle-shaped wings, and a fairly long tail and were similar in shape to the Hook-billed Kites I've seen in south Texas, but these birds were all dark with a single wide white band across the center of the tail. As it turns out, these were indeed Hook-billeds, but an unusual dark form that I had no idea even existed (one was depicted in the Venezuela guide but not in others).
So many mysteries in birding.... I now wish I'd looked again at my Sharp-shinned, they shouldn't be here at this time of year, wonder what it was?!?...